Kurt Busch had made some promises to his adopted stepson, Houston, and the Sprint Cup driver had every intention of keeping them in a bonding experience they shared this summer.
“He had a summer-long list of things he wanted to do,’’ Busch said Tuesday. “Ride his Go Kart, go camping, fishing, just things an 8-year-old would want to do — play video games. He said he wanted to bungee jump, but we had to drop that off the list.’’
But there was one request Busch was unable to fulfill during the 26-race regular season.
“He wanted to go to Victory Lane, and I didn’t win yet this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,’’ said Busch, who also was winless in his three Nationwide Series appearances.
But Busch did the next best thing.
With his runner-up finish to Carl Edwards Sept. 7 at Richmond, Busch earned the No. 10 seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, completing an improbable run in the No. 78 Chevrolet fielded by independent owner Barney Visser, who operates out of his race shop in Denver, far afield of NASCAR’s race hub in Charlotte, N.C.
“So I felt like getting him to the Chase stage was that moment for us to share together,’’ Busch said. “So I lived up as a stepdad to his expectations.’’
It explained why, standing on the Chase stage with Houston, Busch choked up with emotion.
Busch had not only lived up to those expectations of a boy who spent the summer looking up to him, but also met the expectations of his single-car operation by putting them in the Chase for the first time.
“It is a great accomplishment,’’ Joe Garoni, Furniture Row’s general manager, said after the Richmond race. “I don’t know that we had that vision.
“Maybe Kurt did with his experience, but we all filed in right behind Barney and his lead there.’’
But when the team got to the track, it put its trust in Busch.
Along the way, Busch managed to resurrect a racing career that had careened off path after he lost rides at Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing before landing with Phoenix Racing with car owner James Finch, who stood by Busch even though he kept wadding up his racecars.
When Finch could no longer afford to keep running, Busch went to work for Visser’s Furniture Row Racing team, recording three top-10 finishes out of six races at the end of the 2012 season.
“That type of performance level was Chase material,’’ Busch said. “Now that’s only six weeks, though. You have to do it over 26 weeks.
“And so half the races, if you finish them in the top 10, that’s Chase material, and we did that. We had exactly that number.
“We had 13 top-10 finishes [during the regular season]. So, I felt like, yes, we could make the Chase.’’
But Busch’s younger brother, Kyle, believed he was capable of so much more than just qualifying for the Chase.
“I think he’s one of the guys who’s running up front each and every week and is right there and can be a contender for this championship, too,’’ Kyle said. “You know, for a single-car operation, they’ve certainly come a long way. I’d say that Kurt has had a lot to do with that, but I’d also say that [crew chief] Todd Berrier has too, because he’s a smart guy.’’
It was the crowning moment of a season that helped Kurt Busch earn a ride next season as the fourth driver at Stewart-Haas Racing, where he will be teamed with Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, and Kevin Harvick, who will be leaving Richard Childress Racing at season’s end to join the SHR stable.
“It’s been a long journey,’’ Busch said. “And it didn’t happen overnight, but I chose to settle into this program working with Phoenix Racing.’’
It made Busch realize how much fun it was to go to the racetrack, no longer bogged down by “the distractions, requirements, and monotonous things and situation that kept developing with a big team like at Penske Racing,’’ he said.
“So it was great to get a breath of fresh air, roll up my sleeves blue-collar style and work with the guys [at Phoenix], and then to do the same thing with the Furniture Row group, who’s a step up from where that Phoenix Racing team was and then try to get the results side of it back. And we’ve done that.
“Ultimately, we want to be back in Victory Lane, and making the Chase was a great feather in the cap,’’ Busch added.
Now that he’s back in the Chase, and looking to win his second Sprint Cup title after winning the inaugural championship in 2004 for Roush Fenway, Busch knows he has many more miles to run and one more promise to keep.
Busch hopes to fulfill it when he hosts Houston at Sunday’s Sylvania 300, the second race in the Chase, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“We do have him for New Hampshire and that’s a great race for us, because we ran well there earlier this year,’’ Busch said, referring to July’s Camping World RV Sales 301, which he led for 102 laps before a late-race melee resulted in his 31st-place finish. He’s won thrice at NHMS, but not since 2008.
“Looking forward to New Hampshire this weekend and coming up to the New England area,’’ Busch added, “and just trying to continue on the success level of this Chase so far.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.